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Interview: Official says 17 out of all 21 provinces in Mongolia at risk of bubonic plague

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ULAN BATOR, July 16 (Xinhua) — Up to 17 out of all 21 provinces of Mongolia are now at risk for the bubonic plague, a senior official of the country’s National Center for Zoonotic Diseases (NCZD) said Thursday.

“A total of 137 soums (administrative subdivisions) of 17 provinces in our country are now risk areas of bubonic plague or natural homes of the zoonotic disease. Especially, western provinces such as Bayan-Ulgii, Govi-Altai, Khovd and Uvs have been regarded as high-risk areas of the plague,” Bandikhuu Amgalanbayar, deputy director of the NCZD, told Xinhua in an interview.

Bubonic plague is a bacterial disease that is spread by fleas living on wild rodents such as marmots. It can kill an adult in less than 24 hours if not treated in time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Several cases of bubonic plague are recorded in Mongolia annually.

Since the beginning of this year, six suspected cases of bubonic plague have been reported across the country, three of which had been confirmed by laboratory test results, said Amgalanbayar.

Mongolia’s Health Ministry announced earlier this month that two suspected cases of bubonic plague reported in Khovd Province have been confirmed by lab test results.

A 15-year-old boy in Govi-Altai Province died from bubonic plague last week. Another suspected case of bubonic plague has been reported in the same province on Thursday.

Last year, a couple died from bubonic plague in Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia after eating raw marmot meat.

Although hunting marmots is illegal in Mongolia, many Mongolians continue to ignore the law and regard the rodent as a delicacy, and believe that eating marmots or other wild animals is good for one’s health.

There is “no scientific backing” for the belief, Amgalanbayar said, urging citizens not to hunt marmots or eat marmot meat to prevent the spread of bubonic plague.

“Mongolians and people of other nomadic countries have eaten marmots since long ago. But today we have no choice but to stop hunting marmots or eating marmot meat to stay healthy,” the director said.

According to the WHO, over 30 new human pathogens have been detected in the last three decades, 75 percent of which have originated in animals.

As part of the prevention of the spread of bubonic plague, immunization against the plague is now being organized in high-risk areas across the country.

“This year, we are planning to vaccinate more than 32,000 people who are at risk of being infected with bubonic plague. Currently, the immunization rate is over 60 percent,” Amgalanbayar said.

In addition, Mongolia has been actively cooperating with China, Russia, and Kazakhstan in the fight against zoonotic diseases, said the director.

Particularly, every year the country monitors the activity in natural areas which are prone to bubonic plague in all border areas in cooperation with China and exchanges information on risks, Amgalanbayar added. Enditem

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